Numbers 15

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites that when they enter the land I am giving them 3and they bring an offering from the herd or the flock to be sacrificed to the LORD as a pleasing odor, regardless of whether it is a burnt offering of sacrifice or an offering to seal a promise, or an offering brought during your celebrations, 4whoever presents the animal offering should also bring a grain offering of two quarts of fine flour mixed with a quart of oil. 5Also you should offer a quart of wine as a drink offering with each lamb. 6If the offering is a ram four quarts of fine flour should be brought, mixed with one and a fourth quarts of oil, 7plus a drink offering of one and a fourth quarts of wine. 8When a bull is sacrificed to the LORD as a thanksgiving offering or to seal a vow, 9you should also bring six quarts of fine flour mixed with two quarts of oil, 10and as a drink offering you should bring two quarts of wine, and the offering will please the LORD.

11“This must be done with each offering of an ox or a ram, or for male lambs or goat kids. 12It must be done for each sacrifice, however many there are. 13Every Israelite must follow these instructions when making an animal sacrifice and sending the pleasant smell up to the LORD. 14If a foreigner who is living among you or has taken up permanent residence among you wishes to make a burned offering, they must follow the same rules; 15a single procedure for both you and any foreigner, and this is a permanent rule 16whether the foreigner lives among you permanently or temporarily.”

17Then the LORD said to Moses, 18“Tell the Israelites that after they have settled the land, 19whenever you eat what grows there you must make a donation to the LORD. 20From the first lump of dough you shall donate a loaf of bread, just as you would if it came from your own threshing floor. 21From now on, generation to generation, you shall bring to the LORD a loaf from the first grain you gather.

22“However, if you unintentionally fail to follow these instructions the LORD has given Moses — 23and I mean every instruction Moses has given you from the LORD, binding to every generation that comes after you — 24then, because it was done unintentionally and no one was aware of the mistake, all the people must bring one young bull for a burnt offering pleasing to the LORD, along with the accompanying grain and drink offerings, and one male goat for a guilt offering. 25The priest will make things right between the people and the LORD and they will be forgiven because it was an unintentional mistake. 26All of them, foreigners included, are forgiven.

27“Any individual who unintentionally errs shall present a female goat a year old for a guilt offering, 28and the priest shall make things right with the LORD for the one who made the mistake, and that person will be forgiven. 29This applies to the natives of the land and any foreigners living among you; the same rule applies to everyone.

30“However, anyone, native or alien, who goes against the LORD’s instructions, shall be banished from among the people. 31Anyone who does such a thing must be utterly and permanently banished and made to live with their guilt.”

32While the Israelites were still camped in the wilderness, some of them saw a man gathering firewood on the Sabbath. 33They brought him to Moses and Aaron before all the people. 34They held him under arrest because they weren’t sure what punishment should be given. 35The LORD said to Moses, “The man must be executed. The whole crowd shall stone him outside the camp.” 36They drug the man outside the camp and stoned him to death as the LORD had commanded.

37The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to sew fringes on the edge of their gowns, old and young both. Tell them to attach a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. 39The reason is that whenever they see the blue cord they will remember all the LORD’s rules and follow them, and not pursue things their eyes and their hearts yearn for. 40It will help them remember my laws and obey them, and they will be set apart for me, 41for I am the LORD, your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.”


1-10: Immediately after the Israelites’ defeat during their ill-advised sortie into the land, God tells Moses to tell the people that when they come into the land, they are to observe certain rules regarding sacrifices. So, without delay they have the assurance that the setback is temporary and they will indeed still inherit the land promised to Abraham. The rules given here are similar to what we read in Leviticus 2 with slightly different provisions, perhaps relating to their future condition of living in cities and permanent settlements.

11-16: Alien residents and non-Israelites who wish to make sacrifices are to follow the same rules as the Israelites.

17-21: Verses 1-2 are repeated. Then a new law is given for them to observe once they have settled the land: every season when the grain is harvested, the first batch of dough from the ground grain is to be given to the LORD (that is, to the priests).

22-31: Guilt offerings are to atone for unintentional sins, whether by the congregation or by an individual. The person who deliberately ignores God’s law shall be “utterly cut off”, whether alien or native.

32-41: These verses are no longer looking ahead to the Promised Land but have to do with their present situation in the wilderness. First, the Sabbath law is violated by a man gathering sticks in the wilderness on the Sabbath, for which he incurs the death penalty. He is stoned to death by the whole congregation. While such swift and permanent punishment may have made the point that God’s laws and God’s demand that they be a holy people are to be taken seriously, we might wonder why death is necessary instead of, say, banishment. It is clear that the covenant agreement with God is binding on each individual, and individuals do not have a choice about whether or not to abide by it. After this incident, the people are told to mark their garments with a blue thread to remind them of the commandments of the Lord. Hopefully this provision will prevent future incidents like the one with which they have just dealt.


Unintentional sins can be atoned for with a sacrifice. Intentional sins are quite another matter. If this rule were followed today would any of us be alive? Centuries later God will modify this rule by sending Jesus to die for our sins, but the thought comes to me that Jesus didn’t just die for our sins, but also because of them.